© Fabien Vilrus
Scouted on the streets of London, 21-year-old Ashley Radjarame is a model making stratospheric moves in the international fashion scene. Vogue India charts her career graph
Proenza Schouler, Lanvin, Louis Vuitton, Chloe, Jason Wu, Khaite, Jil Sander—for modelling star Ashley Radjarame, walking the coolest catwalks in the world is just another day at the office. The 21-year-old Indian model, born and raised in Rueil-Malmaison, France, made her debut with the Prada Resort 2020 campaign at the age of 19, catapulting her meteoric rise in the modelling industry.
And it all started with a vintage shopping spree she took to London’s Brick Lane.
“I was studying international business trade in London and interning with a coffee shop at the time. My casting agent saw the side of my face, as she walked past at a vintage market. She later told me that she didn’t even have her glasses on when she spotted me,” Radjarame tells me over a Zoom call from France.
You can’t blame her. Radjarame is striking. Thick paintbrush brows, a strong muscular jaw, thoughtful eyes—a unique look that many brands have banked on. ‘That Prada girl’ has now walked for over 30 shows and appeared in campaigns for Mango, Fendi, Chanel Beauty, Louis Vuitton, and the cult London label Supriya Lele. But the future is still unwritten. “I don’t know where I’ll be in five or ten years, but I hope that I will be happy and proud of everything I’ve achieved, doing a job that I like. In ten years, I wish to have a family.”
Over a meandering conversation, we discuss her love for Marvel TV shows and Caribbean French music, how she’s learning to reconnect with her Indian roots, and colourism as a cause she would like to get behind.
Excerpts from the interview below:
Akanksha Kamath: Hi Ashley! It’s so good to speak to you. How have you been? How have you felt these past 18 months?
Ashley Radjarame: I’ve been gardening, growing my own vegetables, and waiting to get back on the runway again.
AK: Tell us about your heritage. When did your family move to France, and how often do you return to India?
AR: My parents are from Tamil Nadu. My mum came to France when she was 25. Her father was in the French military service, so she inherited his citizenship. Our entire family migrated here and I was born in France. I have both cultures in me, Indian and French, but sometimes it’s kind of an identity crisis. The only Indian reference I have here is my family.
AK: You also have a younger sister. How old is she? What are her interests?
AR: She’s sixteen and so talented. She’s a self-taught ukulele player and she sings really well too.
AK: What do you do to feel connected to your Indian roots and culture?
AR: We eat Indian food every day, we oil our hair, we wear our Indian clothes for Diwali—we do all the religious traditions, it’s just that we’re not in India. My mother tries to make us feel like the most Indian we can be. India’s culture is so extensive, so it’s kind of been difficult, but the more I grow up, the more I feel interested in learning more about my culture. When you’re younger, you kind of push it away. I wish I hadn’t done that, but now I’m starting to change that.
AK: How are you changing it?
AR: I am a religious person. So for the moment, I’m buying a lot of books on Hinduism. We have so many gods in our religion, and I don’t really know how to explain it to everyone, so you have to learn first.
AK: You’re an avid vintage shopper. When and how did your love for pre-loved kick in?
AR: Like all kids, my mum shopped for me while growing up. She always believed that you found real gems in second-hand shops. Like most kids, I looked up to my mum’s style. She would mix Indian heritage and French culture beautifully. She wore crop tops or long skirts with Indian gold jewellery, creating a cultural mix and match. It was really cool.
AK: Where do you shop your vintage pieces from?
AR: Not Paris, everything is so overpriced there! I prefer to go to small towns. I love vintage. I’ve always hated new shoes. I love it when shoes are kind of torn and not as new. And I love that every vintage piece has a history behind it. My favourite pieces are from Vivienne Westwood, especially the painted corsets.
AK: Let’s talk about that Prada moment. How surreal was it?
AR: I started my career with the Prada campaign, which is unbelievable! It was amazing seeing Miuccia Prada. I was fangirling. She’s there talking to you and taking care of you, and all you can think is, ‘Is she really talking to me?’ I really loved it. I love to work with new brands and new teams, it’s always super exciting. Runways are where you feel a rush of euphoria. It’s surreal to think that you’re just someone from a small town and then the next day you’re shooting for British Vogue and then Vogue India.
AK: There are so many conversations on how inclusive the industry is becoming. Is that your experience?
AR: I think it is. Now you will see more models of colour backstage. But it’s not a big enough change.
AK: What do you think inclusivity should look like?
AR: There should be every shade of colour… Sometimes the industry will cast Asians, but just white Asians. It’s not the South Asians or the ones that are on the dark side. If they are dark, they prefer really thin, feminine features. They’re choosing their definition of inclusivity. Maybe it’s time to revisit what inclusivity means.
AK: Tell us about the role of the model today. You see Karlie Kloss making a case for more girls in coding with Girl Code. And there’s Adwoa Aboah, who’s talking about women empowerment, and even Gisele Bundchen, who is all about sustainability and the environment. Do you ever find yourself wanting to use your platform for a larger purpose?
AR: Yes, I think it’s important that they’re using their voice. I want to educate my community about colourism.
AK: Have you come across a lot of colourism, growing up in France?
AR: In France, there aren’t many Indians, so even growing up in school I’ve always been the only Indian. Sadly, everyone only has Bollywood as their reference for India, and that’s not always an accurate depiction of how all of India looks or lives. I have had to learn to feel beautiful. It’s strange, but every time I go back to India, I am made to feel so beautiful. I always feel beautiful when I am at home with my family, with people who look like me.
AK: What’s one fashion item you would spend your next paycheque on?
AR: The mini Gucci ‘Jackie’ in lemon.
AK: What do you do when not modelling?
AR: I’ve recently turned into a Marvel fan. So I’ve just finished binge-watching Loki on Disney +. I also love discovering new music. I’m currently listening to Caribbean songs from the French island, Guadeloupe. The genre is called zouk.
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The rise and rise of Ashley Radjarame – VOGUE India